So, forewarning if you haven't seen/played it, this is based on Terminator: Resistance. I say that however having only seen bits and pieces of it. So, this is simultaniously based on events that can happen in the game without having played the game itself. So if there's any major discrepencies, that's the reason why. Or, y'know, alternate timelines and all that.
Mothers and Sons
Some said that with the defeat of Skynet, nature was returning to the world.
Even having been born in a world without universities or schools, a world where she'd learnt to read through an old car repair manual (something came in handy later down the line), Jennifer knew that assertion to be a load of old crock. Nature was nature. Nature was the sum total of millions and millions of cells forming life, whether it be plant, animal, or "other." There wasn't some kind of magical on switch for Gaia or anything. It wasn't as if the existence of Skynet in of itself was some kind of anti-Gaia, some malignant presence that had kept the natural world suppressed after Judgement Day. Get far outside enough the cities and one could see nature bouncing back just fine. Heck, arguably even more than fine, with the lack of humans around.
And yet, here, in the ruins of Los Angeles, she could see what those people meant, even if she didn't agree with them. She could see grass growing below buildings, and leaves weaving their way within them. She could see water flowing – water that was safe to drink now. Of course, a lot of that had to do with urban farming, but here, now, the ability to move around safely in the day, where the only machines were the ones being used by humans, where she could actually hear birds for the first time in years…well, sometimes, she wondered if the New Age types might have a point.
Sometimes, but not always. This wasn't one of the "sometimes" cases, this was one of the cases of "I'm planting carrots, and my back's killing me." Because in the shadow of one of those buildings was a garden, and she and over a dozen others were planting all kinds of vegetables. Most of them the very young or the very old – the oddities in a world where the human race had stood on the cliff named Extinction for three decades. She, not being overly young or old, was the exception. But given her current condition, the officers, such as they were, the ones her age that were able to fight, had assigned her to garden duty. Only other option was to take her chances in the wilderness. Go back to being a scavenger. Having been faced with that options, she'd turned in her gun, grabbed a spade, and asked "how many orange pointy things do you need?"
They hadn't understood the joke then.
She got to her feet, rubbing her back. Most of the gardeners had understood it was better to bend with the knees rather than the back, but she didn't really have that option now. No-one noticed, their eyes forever downward – a change from a world where one spent so much time looking at the sky. Watching for drones, hunter-killers, or in the case of those born before Judgement Day, another missile that would set the land alight once more. Between the rows of gardeners were armed guards – former Resistance members, or current, depending on one's outlook on the situation. She noticed now, as she had when she'd first started, that they were carrying ballistic weaponry. The official reason was that the world was a dangerous place. That bereft of a shared enemy to fight, humanity was devolving into warring factions as they tried to carve up their own fiefdoms. No reason to use plasma, the guards had said, when bullets could do the job just as well. Having spent five months in the wastelands of what had once been called California, Jennifer knew all of that to be true. The "common good" could only stay common for so long. And yet she wondered sometimes…wondered if the guards were there to keep bandits out, or to keep the people such as herself in.
With one of the guards walking up to her, this was one of those times.
"Break time's in ten minutes. Until then, eyes downward, alright?"
Jennifer looked at the trooper. He was young. Younger than her, almost. He had a wild look in his eye, the type she'd seen far too often. That glint that led one to go and fight the machines, turn on one's own, or give into madness. Over the course of her twenty-plus years, she'd seen that glint lead to all three outcomes. Usually it led to the glinter dying in all manner of horrible ways.
"Hey." The guard gestured to the carrots with his rifle. "Get on with it."
"Yeah, yeah, okay," she murmured. She rubbed her hands against her jeans, then rubbed her back. "Getting on with it. Sure."
She bent over with her back, wincing. If she was alive twenty years from now (and that was a big if), she was sure she could look forward to having her eyes pointing downwards as her back pointed upwards.
"God's sake woman, bend with your knees."
Jennifer grit her teeth and went back to work on the carrots. "You still here?" she murmured.
"Excuse me?" the guard hissed.
She sighed, and looked up at him. "Listen," she said. "I'm sure it's hard for you – aren't any machines for you to fight, and the only shots you get are at bandits, or with moonshine. But hey, radical idea. Why don't I do my job, and you do yours?"
The guard stood there, rooted to the spot. He looked ready to pop a vein. Jennifer shrugged and returned back to the garden.
"Good.," she murmured. "Glad we agree."
For a second, she was glad at the agreement. A second after that, she felt a blow to the back of her head, sending her toppling into the dirt.
The blow was bad enough. But falling down, it was her stomach that caught the worst of it. She gasped for breath, and put her hand down towards it, struggling to breathe. Struggling to hear as the guard shouted at her. Struggling to keep her mind in the present rather than in the past. She'd been in situations like this before. She'd been lucky. Others hadn't been.
She closed her eyes, gripped the soil, and began to count to five. One.
"Ma'am, are you alright?"
There was a hand on her shoulder. Two. Three.
"Here. Drink this."
Another hand offered her a drink bottle. Four.
She gulped it down. It was warm. But it did its job. Five.
As did her countdown. She slowly got to her feet, helped by the hands of her saviour. Or helper, she told herself. She didn't need saving. Maybe. Hopefully. If she did, then she didn't have a chance in this world. But, whatever the case, coming face to face with a much older man with a scar running down the elft side of his face, she could take help where she could.
"Thank you," she said. She tried to hand him the drink's flask back.
"No. Finish it. Looks like you need it."
Jennifer gulped the water down, her thirst overruling her pride. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw two guards attending the one who'd assaulted her. He was seated on the ground, his hands trembling. A stab of pity entered her heart, if only for a moment.
"I'm sorry about Private Imran," the man said. "Some people have a harder time adjusting than others."
Jennifer frowned. "I think we're all adjusting. Doesn't mean we all lose it."
"True." Both of them glanced back at the private, being led away by the other troopers. Ones whose uniforms were slightly tidier, but still carried ballistic weapons. The man looked back at Jennifer. "You sure you should be working out here?" he asked.
Jennifer frowned. "What do you mean?"
He gestured at her stomach. "Well, given your condition…"
The frown turned into a scowl. "My condition's fine, thank you very much. I…" She took a breath, clutching her stomach. It was pounding again, she was short of breath, and to top it off, she wanted to throw up.
"Fine indeed," the man murmured. "How long have you been pregnant?"
Jennifer glared at him as she clutched her stomach. Her swollen, baby-sized, completely conspicuous stomach. "Six months," she whispered.
The man gave her a sympathetic look and patted her on the shoulder. "Come on," he said.
"Break's in five minutes. I think I can give you an early start."
"I don't need favours," Jennifer murmured, still finding herself short of breath.
"No. But your child might."
For a moment, Jennifer paused. The other farmers had gone back to work. The guards had resumed their patrols. In her experience, special treatment often resulted in short term gains for long term losses. But if she could absorb those losses, and feed the gains to her child…
"Alright," she whispered.
The man smiled and patted her shoulder. "Good choice." He turned around and began to walk. "Follow me."
Jennifer followed him, clutching her stomach as she did so. "You got a name?" she murmured.
"What, didn't I…" He trailed off, and looked back at her. "Oh. Right. Name's John Connor."
John Connor. She was sitting at the same table as John Connor. Leader of the Human Resistance, Saviour of Mankind, the Warrior Prophet, the Messiah, the man with more titles than she could count. She was here, outside the garden, seated at a table outside what had once been a restaurant, overlooked by five troopers armed with plasma rifles. Before her was a glass of water, and a plate of meat that she couldn't identify. She was here, dressed in rags, beside a man who was wearing a military uniform who'd found the time to shave, wash, and cut his hair. One who, in contrast to his earlier demeanour, had a cold, distant look to him. As if he was barely aware of her presence.
"Um…" He looked at her, and she lightly tapped the meat. "Is this rat?"
"Oh." She stared at the meat before her for a good two seconds before picking it up with her fingers and tearing into it. It was stringy, it was overcooked, but damn if it wasn't good all the same. She knew that before the bombs had fallen, people had eaten stuff like chicken, pig, sheep, and cow, even having names for the different types of meat that could come from the same animal. In the world she'd grown up in, meat was either the easiest thing to come by, or the hardest, depending on how close you were to a city. And in that world, having eaten rat, cat, bird, and even dog, the meat before her now...it was what counted as a delicacy.
She'd finished it in two minutes and spent the next thirty seconds licking the juice from her fingers. She only stopped when she saw Connor looking at her, his face expressionless. That cold, distant look was still there, but she had no doubt she was under scrutiny.
"Um…" She looked around for something to wipe her hands on. "I…"
He pulled out a tissue from his pocket. "Here," he said.
She took the tissue and began to wipe up. Getting the juice and flecks of meat off her hands and mouth, and going a step further to clean the dirt and grime from her face. Water wasn't exactly at a premium in this city, but hydration and watering plants came before any thoughts of cleanliness. And until now, sitting down at a table as if this was a normal, pre-August 29th, 1997 day, she'd never been too bothered about it.
"So…" Jennifer said, drumming her fingers on the table. Connor remained silent. "You just pick and choose people you want to have lunch with?"
"More or less."
She blinked. "Really?"
He leant back in his own chair, his right hand clutching his glass. "There aren't many people left in the world, Jennifer. And this is the first time I've had a chance to know any of them."
"But you're John Connor, right? You must have had heaps of people close to you."
"Not really." He took a sip, and when he spoke, his eyes were out towards the street. "Couldn't let people get too close. Skynet spent years hunting me, and anyone too close was a way in."
Jennifer raised an eyebrow. "But the infiltrators were a recent invention, right?"
She remained silent. Behind John Connor's words was the unspoken assumption that Skynet would have deployed its infiltration units eventually. That it was inevitable. As he took another sip of water, she reflected on what she'd heard about him. He'd earnt the title "Warrior Prophet" for a reason, because so often, it was as if he knew what Skynet would do before the computer system did it. For every machine it had deployed, he'd already devised the means to counter the threat. Maybe he was the Messiah, she reflected. A modern day Jesus Christ, but without having to suffer being crucified. Which, in retrospect, was a kinder fate than so many in this world had met. A fate that, despite what a book she'd found in an old motel had told her, was one that she didn't think there was anything after. Life was life. Death was death. That was the world she lived in, and she didn't think there was any other beyond the clouds.
Connor still wasn't meeting her eyes. Following his, she saw another diner across the street. All of its lettering had faded bar a big red sign with white letters. COCA COLA it read.
"I drank one of those once," she murmured.
Connor looked at her. "Pardon?"
"Back in a shopping mart," she said. She'd told the story before, but there was no-one in this city that had heard it before, and certainly JC, Superstar hadn't. "Would have been four at the time. I was with my parents, where we'd just push a trolley around, going from one place to the next." She looked down, folding her fingers together. "Hardly anything left, but there was this vending machine with a single Coke can. My dad managed to kick it out and gave it to me." She gave a sad smile. "He said, 'drink up, Jen – there's never going to be another one like it.' Mum objected, said I shouldn't have the sugar, but dad said it didn't matter anymore. So…so he opened the can, and I drank, and it was like nothing I'd ever had before. Warm, of course. But sweet. Like…like something on my tongue that stayed there that I couldn't get off." She raised her gaze and saw Connor looking at her, before lowering it again in embarrassment. "Never found a Coke after that," she murmured. "I…" She let out a snort and began to rub her eyes – she could sleep better nowadays, but the brat growing inside her still wasn't making it easy. "God. Bet you've heard a thousand stories like that, right?"
"More or less. But these days, I have the time to listen to them."
She looked at Connor, and he gave her a small smile. And in spite of everything, she gave one back.
It's no wonder people follow you.
It was a strange mix, seeing the man before her. There was strength behind that exterior, somewhere, but here and now, he seemed so…normal. Like this could have been them, before the bombs fell, just chatting as people lived their lives. A life he may have lived himself. For all the rumours that abounded about John Connor, a fact that everyone agreed on was that he'd been born well before Judgement Day. That his mother, Sarah Connor, a name etched into the zeitgeist as much as her son's, had raised him to be the leader humanity needed. Why she'd have done that without any knowledge of the future to come, Jennifer didn't know, but either way, she could only conclude that the general's mother had done a stand-up job.
"Are your parents still with you?" Connor asked.
Thoughts of Sarah Connor left her mind. Memories filled them instead. "No," she whispered. "Not for awhile."
"Any other family?"
"I…" She took a breath. Her stomach was full, her child was keeping quiet, but there was a pain in her chest that she didn't want. "No," she whispered. "Not anymore."
The pain was still there. Like the hand of one of Skynet's exos. Reaching down her throat and squeezing her heart.
"If you don't want to talk about it…"
"His name was Patrick," Jennifer whispered. She looked at Connor again. "Patrick. My dad was dead by that time, and my mum had him…well, in the wastelands, humans can act like…well, like humans."
Connor said nothing, but the look in his eye told her that he knew exactly what she was talking about.
"My mother died giving birth to him," Jennifer said. "Too old, too little medicine, too much blood. I mean, he was only my half-brother, thanks to the market for pleasure goods, and I was more like a mother to him than a sister, but…" She sniffed, remembering what had happened. "I kept him alive long enough to let him see a world without Skynet," she whispered. "And I…" She brushed a tear aside. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Connor said nothing. He just sat there, listening. Waiting. Giving her the choice as to whether she wanted to stop or not. She doubted that even a 'prophet' such as himself could see what she did in her mind's eye.
They'd left Los Angeles after Skynet was destroyed. Heading out into the wastelands again, continuing the life they'd always had. She, Patrick, and Wolfie. The war was over. The world was their oyster. Wolfie was in good cheer, Patrick had learnt how to shoot, and she…one month on, she realized that she was pregnant. And while Patrick had some innocence left to him in a world that had lost it in a nuclear holocaust, she hadn't. She knew how it had happened, and when. She was out in the wild, the child's father long gone. And she'd decided that it would be fine. People gave birth all the time. Her parents had met after the bombs had fallen, and by accident, they'd brought a screaming child into the world who'd suckled at the breast of a woman who barely had enough energy to give her milk. In a world that wasn't irradiated, or overrun with machines, surely she could do better, right?
"I thought it would be alright, you know," Jennifer murmured, as much to herself as the man before her. "But…well, you know as well as I do. Without the machines, there's no common enemy. And without a common enemy, people will…"
"Do terrible things," Connor murmured.
She nodded, thinking of that night. One month ago, only a few miles from Los Angeles. They'd kept the fire lit, and even though machines hadn't spotted it, bandits had. Five months ago, she could have fought them off. Five months pregnant however…
Patrick had killed one of them. He'd shot one of the bastards through the head before the other three pinned them. Before they'd shot Wolfie, and forced her to watch as they'd used a hammer to reduce her brother's head to a mess of muscle. Blow after blow after blow. One scream after another, each softer than the last. One tear after another, as she'd begged for them to stop. Before, at last, the one holding her had released her, clapping at his companions' 'victory.' Giving her all the chance she needed to pickpocket his gun, shoot him, and his companions. Finishing them off as quickly as possible so she could cradle her brother in the last seconds of his life.
"I came back here after it happened," she said. "I couldn't protect my brother. I thought I could, but I was wrong. And whatever happens…" She rubbed her belly. "This little one deserves the best chance they can get in life." She looked up at Conner and smiled. "I think I owe you some thanks for that."
Conner smiled and rose his glass. "Happy to help."
He looked happy, but he wasn't. If his face was akin to a mask, it was one that was showing cracks. Her perception was that good at least. Why though, she had no idea. However horrible the world was right now, it was better than it had been in 32 years.
"So what now?" Jennifer asked. "Now that Skynet's destroyed, what's next for General John Connor of the Human Resistance or whatever it's called now."
"Technically the Resistance is disbanded," John murmured. "Functionally, it's the same. And as for what's next…" He trailed off, his face looking down at the glass. "You know, I have no God damn idea."
He grunted, and when he talked, Jenn could tell it was less to her, and more to himself. "You spend your life being told that you're meant to do something. That it's what you're here for. Finally, you do it. Your life's purpose has been fulfilled. You wake up the day after and then ask, what's next?" He sipped some of the water. "Spent my whole life fighting Skynet. I never asked what would happen after the plug was pulled."
Whole life? I thought you were born before Judgement Day.
She didn't ask the question though. But she did ask another. "Is it true? That Skynet sent machines back in time to kill you?"
Conner frowned. "Where'd you hear that?"
She shrugged. "People talk. Whispers, rumours, scuttlebutt. They say that it sent back two machines, one to kill your mother, and one you." She leant forward. "Is it true?"
Conner, after a moment, murmured, "well if it was, it failed. I mean, I'm still here, right?"
"Well, yeah, but…like, the rumours also say you sent back protectors. So if you sent someone to protect your child self, do you remember it? Or is it, like, an alternate timeline? Or-"
"Drop it, Jennifer."
She fell silent immediately. The way he was looking at her…she could tell that this was a subject that he refused to broach. Why though, she couldn't tell. Time travel sounded like something out of science fiction, but in a world of hunter-killers, Terminators, and cyborgs, she couldn't really draw the line at anything anymore.
"I'm sorry," she said. She got to her feet, clutching her belly. The damn brat was kicking again.
"It's fine," Conner murmured. "It's just…" He took another sip of water again. "Let's just say it's been a long war. And right up to the end of it, I had to send people to die for me."
She bit her lip. "Well," she said. "Thanks for lunch. But break's nearly over, so I should get back to the garden."
"Actually, I was thinking of assigning you to a machine shop."
She stared at him. "Sir?"
"Don't have to call me sir, you're not a Resistance member." He got to his feet, with a small smile. "It isn't charity, if that's what you're worried about. Truth of the matter is that children are a rare commodity. And since you were a scavenger, I figure you know a thing or two about machines."
She shrugged. "Or three."
"Hmm." A silence lingered between the two of them. Truth of the matter was, she'd gladly work in a machine shop than in the garden, and not just because of her ever-growing belly. She'd spent her life around machines, and she'd swiped rather than grown food. Tinkering around was practically a God-send right now.
Maybe you are the Messiah, she reflected. She watched as he drew out a notepad and pencil, scribbling something down and handing it to her. "Machine shop's on the corner of Fifth and Sixth. Can't miss it."
She gingerly took the paper, seeing it was addressed to someone named Luna, and had a signature. Just as gingerly, she pocketed it. "Thank you," she whispered.
Conner shrugged. "Like I said, it's not charity. Just-"
She gave him a quick hug, and sniffed. "Thank you," she whispered. "For everything."
He just stood there, before she broke from the embrace. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw some of the troopers giving uneasy glances. Conner however, had his mask back on. That cold distant look. One that she suspected wasn't indicative of the man he was, but rather the man he presented himself as. Maybe the man he'd forced himself to become. Because if John Conner had marched humanity down the road to victory, it had still been a road paved with the lives of millions.
But she didn't press it. Instead, she gave a nod, and began to walk off. Rubbing her belly again, smiling as the brat had stopped kicking.
"Jacob," she said. She turned and looked at General Conner. "Jacob Rivers."
"He's the father," she said. "He was a member of the Resistance. Helped me at Pasadena and…well, we helped each other. And…look, I was wondering if…"
"I can look into it," Conner murmured. "See if he's still around."
There was something strange in his voice. Some sparkle in his eye. Something that Jenn couldn't pin down. But then again, not only had she just hugged the Saviour of Mankind, she'd outright blurted out how her child was conceived. Her ears burning, she looked down, at bother her ground, and stomach. "Thank you," she said. "I…"
"Think this is the first woman I've seen who's got a child born from an absent father?"
She looked back up at him.
"Even before Judgement Day, I had experience with that."
There it was again. The same look. The glint of light from behind the mask. The spark that faded as soon as it appeared, leaving nothing but a forty-something man with a scar on his face, and, she suspected, more scars beyond his skin than she could guess at.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Really."
Scars that she wouldn't pick at, no matter how much she wanted to.
Maybe, by some chance, Jacob was still alive. Most likely he wasn't. Maybe she'd be able to save her child where she'd failed with Patrick, maybe not. But, at the very least, she'd be doing so in a world where the chances were better. Where the fate of mankind was theirs to choose, not kept in the dirt by a mechanical foot. In this world, despite mankind's uglier side rising to the surface, maybe…maybe it could be better.
Walking down the street, looking at the return of life to the city, she smiled, as a bird landed upon a street light and began to sing.